What Am I Missing About Triumvirate?

I played my second game of Triumvirate with Gwen over the weekend, and I don’t know that I’ll be able to get her to play a third with me.  She doesn’t see much point in it, and as much as I want to give it the benefit of the doubt, I’m not really finding much of interest in it either.

Just in case you haven’t read much about it, Triumvirate is a 2-player trick-taking card game with a Roman theme (the conflict between Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus).  There are three suits (one for each faction) numbered 0-8, and the 0 card (the Mob) is a “trump” that can beat any card of another color, but loses to all cards of its own color.  The goal of the game is to control the faction that is able to first win 3 hands by making the greatest pledges of that color.  Pledges are made by setting aside a “legion” card (the 3, 5, and 7 value cards for each suit) after a hand is complete, which may be done 3 times during the game.  Each hand is then played out in a series of 2-card tricks until one faction has won 3 tricks, thus winning the hand for that faction.   

Now, I’ve read several reviews of Triumvirate on BGG, and most all of them say that you have to give it a few plays to pick up on the subtlety of the game.  So I’m willing to do so, but don’t really think that I’m missing much as of right now.  I mean, I’ve played a lot of trick-taking games in my past, and think that I have a pretty good handle on the basics of trick-taking hand management.  And I’ve also played a number of games with the same kind of mechanic where you both have to play resources to influence/control a faction as well as to make that faction win.  And I really like both of these kinds of games, but as high as my hopes were about Triumvirate, I’m still not very excited about it now.

So, here’s what I do understand and probably like about the game, just to be clear for those of you that may give me some advice:

  • it’s a trick-taking game for 2 people, which is pretty freaking awesome all on its own
  • the decision about making a pledge is tough because you are hampering (by removing a card from play) the faction that you want to win
  • leading is important because a faction can’t win if it doesn’t win tricks, and the other player must follow suit if they have it
  • there can be a component of bluffing involved as you can try to mislead your opponent as to what you’re trying to accomplish
  • not leading can therefore be pretty important to try and figure out what your opponent is pushing for
  • as with all trick-taking games, there is a nice hand management component where you have to figure out which cards to use when, because there are trick you absolutely need to win and others that you can just let go

What still bothers me, however, is the freaking luck!  Here are some ways that it surfaces and undermines the game:

  • Getting dealt the 7’s is simply better than getting the 5’s and 3’s, and pledging them makes it much more likely that you’ll control the factions. 
  • Getting high cards or mobs is simply better than getting other cards, because you can take the lead when you need it.  For instance, If my opponent has the lead and three high cards of a color, that color will probably win the hand, because (in most cases) you will have at least three cards of every color, and you won’t be able to wrest control of the lead from them
  • There’s no means of manipulating your hand in the game to make the previous point less likely.  For example, if you were able to discard 1 or 2 cards every hand (in order to short suit yourself of a color), then you would have a lot more control over being able to win tricks with other colors.
  • Even though there are some interesting decisions to make about hand-management and all, most of them seem rather transparent to me.  Maybe I just expected too much from this light card game, but I really find the decisions in Rook or the new Z-Man game Chronicle to be more interesting and difficult for the most part.

So, fans of Triumvirate, convince me!  What am I missing?  As I said, I’m very predisposed to like this game, and really want to see its deeper value.  Help me to do so!   


  1. sunday silence

    well the only thing I am curious about is the publisher seems to be keeping the rules quite a secret. I think I am reluctant to invest in something that is simply a set of ordinary deck of cards with some printed rule stuck in there. And why are the rules some big secret; here is what the publisher says on 9/18/09 on the board game geek boards:

    “The game comes with two extra variants, A drafting version that replaces the shuffle between hands and an alternative scoring mechanism for playing multiple rounds.”

    what’s the big secret? Did this add to your level of play? Does it bring any new strategies?

  2. Chris Norwood

    If you’re really worried about not having enough information about Triumvirate, check out Ender’s comprehensive review on BGG.  I’m not exactly sure why you think there’s some big conspiracy or secrecy about the game, though, because I pretty much knew everything about how to play before I ever picked it up. 

  3. sunday silience

    at the time of the discussion back in 2010; the publisher didnt seem to want to discuss the optional scoring and drafting rules and just suggested I buy the game; which was a bit off putting. After going back to that page I now see there are later discussions in 2011 where these options were explained.

    Did you play the game with the optional rules and if so what did they bring to the game?

  4. Chris Norwood

    Oh, that makes more sense.  But no, I haven’t played it with anything optional.  I really need to make more of an effort just to get in a few more plays and make a decision either way to keep it or trade it away.

  5. sunday silence

    Even Ty the publisher/inventor wasnt real big on one of the variants as I see from the later discussion. He only put the variants in some of the games he distributed, as it was self published and he was sort of varying the rule sets as they went out. It must be very difficult to publish that way especially with a card game. It is really just a rule set, you dont have much in the way of counters and such to promote.

    I thought the mob card was a very interesting take on trumping in general. But I think it is hard to walk a line between a social card game and historical wargame. There is not enuf chrome for the game to appeal to historical gamers and as a family card game it has issues too.

    One thing is the limited distribution and hence a fairly hefty retail price for a card game. It seems that you need widespread distribution to have that sort of card game take off. Also I think some of the rules added to the complication; and it only plays for two. So for a number of reasons it does not see widespread use as a mainstream card game e.g. hearts, spades, poker etc.

    Still I like that mob idea. That has a lot of petential.

  6. I have played the Triumvirate game and it was something of an entertaining gesture. I gave it to play it to my son and it was one of the meanest part of all. I mean the tricky thing about the game.

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